Getting divorced is already difficult and painful enough as it is. However, if you or your spouse are members of the US military or other armed services, such as the Coast Guard, it can get a whole lot trickier. There are a lot more laws governing the procedure, and they encompass every step, from military pensions, through child support, all the way to healthcare coverage.
As opposed to regular divorces, military divorce cases are governed by both state and federal laws. While navigating the multitude of rules and regulations may be difficult at first, you might soon realize that it actually works in the favor of both parties, at least to a certain extent.
In this article, we’ll cover the military divorce procedure and the federal laws that play into it. We’ll also take a look at how these regulations play into the state law of Alaska to give you a full picture of what you can expect when getting a military divorce in this state.
Federal Military Divorce Laws
The vast majority of rules governing the military divorce process are actually instituted on the federal level. This means that regardless of the state you’re filing for divorce in, the majority of the acts and laws that regulate military families’ divorces are actually the same across the entirety of the United States. Knowing that from the start is important, especially if you and your spouse are not splitting up on friendly terms. Being unaware of the specific rules of divorcing military members (or divorcing as military members) could keep you from easily obtaining legal services or retirement benefits.
There are two acts that you should be familiar with when ending your marriage with an active duty member. They contain information about how your marital property will be divvied up, as well as the extent of retirement pay you may be entitled to as a former spouse of a military member.
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
Although this is a much wider law that is meant to assist active duty members with managing their civil duties while on a military assignment. In the context of a divorce proceeding, a member of the military can apply for a delay of the court date for at least 90 days. This is better known as a “stay”. It’s an incredibly useful provision to know, as it can allow you to postpone the start of your proceedings until you get your other affairs in order. That way, you can prepare yourself for the procedure more thoroughly and not go into the proceedings hot-headed.
Of course, if you’re the filing spouse who is not military personnel, then the SCRA might make things more complicated for you. Don’t worry, though. If your soon-to-be former partner applies for a stay, there are plenty of things you can do within those 90 days to make your case rock-solid. As you’ll see in a moment, there are certain benefits that military spouses are entitled to. They can level out the playing field quite a bit.
Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act
As opposed to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA) is meant to safeguard and protect the ex-spouse of a military member. Most importantly, this act regulates the division of military pension post-divorce. According to the USFSPA, military pensions can be divided just like civilian retirement benefits. The nature of that split is determined by state laws — it can be treated as sole or community property. The specific amount received by each party is also determined by state law. The USFSPA and the Defence Finance and Accounting Service (a body responsible for paying out due pensions in the military) also specify a few ground rules, the most important of which are laid out below:
- The 10/10 rule. You and your military partner had to have been a married couple for at least 10 years that also overlapped at least 10 years of their military service. Courts may agree to pension payouts for spouses who don’t meet these requirements, but in these cases, the money will be paid directly by the military spouse instead of the DFAS.
- Additional privileges. The DFAS also grants extra commissary, medical, and exchange benefits, depending on the length of your marriage and the length of service of your spouse. These become available once the two of you have been married for over 20 years, your spouse was also an active duty military member for 20 years, and there was a 15-year-long overlap between your marriage and their length of service (i.e. a long-term military marriage).
Other Important Rules
While the acts and regulations described above form the bulk of military divorce specificities, there are a couple of things that escape these documents’ jurisdictions that are still incredibly important to know.
As a military service member, you’re entitled to a legal assistance attorney. They are present on most bases and their cost is covered by the army. You might think that only enlisted servicemen can access this privilege, but that’s actually not the case. Military spouses also have access to the services of an army lawyer. Now, they are legal assistance attorneys, so it’s likely that they do not specialize in divorce law, but using their help can be a good starting point, nonetheless. They could direct you to a good divorce law firm or help you plan out the initial course of action.
Military Divorce and Child Support
In most divorce cases, child custody and support are some of the lengthiest aspects to get through. They get even more difficult in cases where there is a lot of animosity between the parties. Alongside the family law matters that regulate spousal support in Alaska, you’ll also have to be wary of the additional military rules that pertain to this issue.
With regard to child support, there are not too many military divorce regulations that you need to obey, but it is worth keeping in mind that the Defense Finance and Accounting Service allows for setting aside a specific portion of one party’s military pay to be paid out as child support every month. Moreover, the spouse who ends up getting custody over the child is entitled to extra help if they are forced to forego their ongoing career in order to focus on childcare.
Alaska Divorce Laws
While the military divorce rules are a federal matter and do not differ much from state to state, they do not govern the entire proceeding from the very beginning to the final divorce decree. Military divorce laws leave a lot of room for state laws to regulate many aspects of the procedure.
The very first thing that Alaska courts require to begin divorce proceedings is proof of legal residency within the state. When it comes to the military, Alaska law states that if a service member was stationed at a base in Alaska for 30 days, they can be considered a resident of that state for the purpose of filing for a divorce or dissolution of marriage. Keep in mind that aside from the state where a member of the military is stationed, you can also begin proceedings in a state where the military spouse is a resident or one where the military member is originally from.
Grounds for Divorce in Alaska
Both military and civilian marriages need to meet the following requirements to be granted a divorce:
- Failure to consummate the marriage,
- One spouse is convicted of a felony,
- Willful abandonment of the spouse for more than a year,
- Domestic violence,
- Substance abuse,
- Incurable mental illness.
Division of Marital Property
Alongside the military requirements for division of property, Alaska law also considers certain key information points about both parties to determine a fair allotment. These are also known as Merrill Factors and they include:
- Age and health,
- Earning capacities,
- Current financial condition (including health insurance costs),
- Both parties’ conduct with relation to marital assets,
- Child custody when determining who will receive the family home,
- When and how the property in question was acquired,
- Other individual circumstances.
Remember that the Merrill Factors also apply when determining spousal support. If you’re an Alaska resident, you should definitely contact a military divorce attorney alongside an Alaska law office to be fully prepared for the proceedings in the local court.
The Bottom Line
Any divorce can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Military divorces are substantially different from the same proceedings in civilian cases, but that doesn’t mean that they make the whole situation any easier. We hope that this guide to divorces in Alaska for active-duty military members and their spouses answered any questions you might have about this procedure and helped you prepare yourself before heading over to the law offices. If you haven’t found the information you’re looking for, check out the Survive Divorce blog for more advice.